Montana: Glacier National Park & 13.1 Miles of Running in 3 Days

Back in June, my friend Jen and I flew to Montana to run a half marathon in Glacier National Park. We decided to make a road trip of it, and went through Montana, to Banff, Jasper, Vancouver, and then through Washington. It was a 10 day trip and the we spent the first few days in Montana exploring Glacier as well as running our 13.1 miles. You can read about the specifics of those days below as well as a summary that will be updated here.

Day 1: Thursday June 19

We both had early morning flights. Mine was a pre dawn flight from Tampa to Dallas and then Dallas to Bozeman. I got in about an hour before Jen, so picked up the rental car and snacks while I waited for her flight to land. Our rental was a truck because it was the cheapest option for the trip so we ended up with a new F150 pickup which I was not at all mad about. [ insert heart eyes emoji here ]

After getting situated in the truck and figuring out our plan for the day, our first stop was downtown Bozeman. Montana State University is in Bozeman so the downtown is quaint, full of shops and restaurants, and the right mix of historic and trendy. I’ve been following a gift shop called Heyday Bozeman on Instagram for far too long and finally got to set foot in their store. It was an absolute delight. It had all my favorite things – cards, books, travel accessories, jewelry, and local artist’s work. There’s a lot of other unique stores downtown, but this was my favorite.

We went to Ted’s Montana Grill for lunch. I personally loved their coaster that said “Speak your mind, but ride a fast horse”. We stopped for some coffee at the cutest little place downtown called Treeline Coffee for some fuel before stocking up at Target on essentials for the next 10 days. On our way out of Bozeman, I got a photo of the RSVP Hotel which I have been swooning over on Instagram for months. Since we were staying in a different town for the night, we didn’t end up at this hotel but when I return to Bozeman, you will find me at this pink hotel sipping champagne poolside and popping into their eatery and coffee shop called The Farmer’s Daughter.

From Bozeman, we drove about 3 hours to Missoula. Since it was now about dinner time, we made our way into town and ate at The Notorious P.I.G BBQ which was highly rated on Yelp. It was one of those barbecue places where you can smell it a mile away. It was the kind of barbecue where you want to lick your fingers after. Mmmm. We walked around downtown and I got dessert at Mary’s Mountain Cookies. These cookies are enormous and there are so many different flavors. I got some kind of turtle pecan flavored cookie and wow. It was incredible. One of the best cookies I’ve ever had. We continued our walk and ended up in a downtown park that was having some type of food and music festival. We checked it out for a bit and then decided to head to the hotel since we’d both been up for about 18 hours.

Day 2: Friday June 20

Our second day started with a decent amount of driving. We had stayed in Missoula, and our next planned stop was in Glacier National Park which was about 2.5 hours away. We drove through a little town called Arlee on the route. It wasn’t a town where you stop, but we enjoyed some of the building’s architecture on the way through. We stopped at an overlook and then the Ninepipes Lodge and the little shop on their property called the Great Gray Gifts. It was THE CUTEST with the nicest employees. They had all the Montana things, and although I wanted to be cautious about how much I planned to purchase on the trip, I ended up getting my favorite things from the trip here. As I”m writing this post, I’m wearing my fleece Montana sweatshirt I purchased there. My other favorite piece from the store is my bison keychain. (I love bison. It’s my spirit animal of mine, if you will.) If you are in the area, you absolutely must stop at their store.

After our fill of shopping bags and coffee (and tea for Jen), we made our way toward Glacier National Park. We were entering from the west side of the park. The famous Going to the Sun road was still not open, so you had to back track around the park to get to the other side. We entered through West Glacier and ventured as far as was open on the Going to the Sun Road.

First of all. This picture above. SWOON. The trees are SO beautiful and SO tall at the Trail of the Cedars. That’s where the road stopped, so we turned around by the trail and meandered along Lake Mcdonald back toward the entrance. On the way back, we stopped at Polebridge and the general store.

The whole reason we were on this trip was for the Half Marathon we were doing through Vacation Races the next day. If you don’t know about Vacation Races, it’s a company that hosts half, full, and ultra marathons in the most beautiful places. Many of them take place inside or just outside of National Parks including the Rocky Mountains, Smoky Mountains, Zion, Tetons, and the Grand Canyon. I had originally planned to take this trip and run the half on my own, but when I was in PA, Jen mentioned she would be interested in joining me so we took the trip together. Our race check-in was this afternoon in East Glacier, so we exited the park in the west in order to go east since the main road in the park was closed.

The race expo was right outside the National Park near Two Medicine Lake. We checked in, got our numbers and picked up some swag. They had the Blackfeet Indian Tribe there to share stories and also talk about the land of Glacier National Park. After the expo, we went to explore the National Park on the eastern side. We pulled in and got to see mountain goats just roaming the camp ground by the boats. While I didn’t get a good picture, we were able to see them up close and man are they big!

It was time to head back to the hotel to check in and figure out what we wanted to do for dinner so we drove the 35 or so minutes back toward the hotel.

The hotel was called the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, Montana. It’s a historic inn built in 1939 that’s along the Empire Builder route for Amtrak. Initially there was consideration of building an entrance to the park in Essex, so the location made sense at the time. But due to World War Two, the idea didn’t become a reality. It’s about 30 minutes to either the East or West entrance to the park. You can stay in the lodge, old train cars, or their school house accommodations. Theres no TVs in the room, and no cell service. There’s a chance you might get Wifi every few hours in the downstairs common rooms, but don’t count on it. They will check weather for you, let you use their phone at the front desk, and research anything you may need like when the Going to the Sun road opens again. That was likely the most asked question during our time there – “Is the road open yet?”. There’s a restaurant on site and they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner and its quite good. They also have a tea and coffee menu which we used well while we were there. Overall it’s an adorable, historic, cozy inn that’s pretty off the grid.

It was about time for dinner so we drove back over to West Glacier to Apgar Village. We didn’t spend much time there earlier in the day when we drove in so we parked and walked around. We ended up having dinner at Eddie’s Cafe and Mercantile. I got the country fried steak with fries. It was wonderful but I definitely couldn’t eat it all. After dinner, we walked around by the lake in the rain for a bit and then headed back to get huckleberry dessert (people around here love their huckleberries), rest, and prep for our run the next morning. We had a 3 AM alarm ready to go.

Day 3: Saturday June 21

We weren’t the only ones getting up early from the hotel that morning. On our way to Browning where the starting point was for the trip, we were among miles of traffic headed in the pitch black to go run the mountains outside Glacier National Park. It has rained the night prior and EVERYTHING was muddy at the beginning portion of the course. My shoes were mud cakes before even beginning the run.

The first 2 or so miles of the run were no big thing. I was thinking “okay cool, I can do this”. And then we hit the first mountain. It just started to go right uphill and I’m thinking, “Hm. This is much steeper than I envisioned”. We get up the first hill and I start to see switch backs and I realize this is just the beginning, we are still going to be climbing for a few miles.

I’m running, the views are beautiful, I’m taking photos, but my calves are ON FIRE. At one point the road is so slanted, that it’s hard to just stay balanced because the road is so rough and angled. The next few miles continue uphill until you hit mile 7 or 8. Then it’s literally all downhill from there. I thought running up the hills was hard, and then I realized how hard on my legs and toes downhill was going to be for the next 4-5 miles. Around miles 11, the course got flat (PTL considering I trained in FLORIDA which is flatter than flat), and continued that way until the finish line. You finish right at the Glacier Park Lodge, right on the front lawn. It was a fun way to finish and see everyone after the race. And also a great place for a little post race rest when you kind of want to throw up and kind of can’t move.

Shortly after, I hobbled to find Jen. We explored the lodge, took the bus back to our car, and were on to the next adventure. Since we were already near the west entrance, we decided to head in that way to explore rather than going back to the hotel and then come back this way which would have added an hour to the trip. We changed clothes in the car, drank some water, and got on the road. We stopped at a restaurant for lunch and coffee at St. Mary Lodge and Resort in Babb, and then went into the park. We had parked in a parking lot to check out the view and I was exhausted so I cat napped. Let me tell you, an F150 is a great truck to nap in. It was so comfortable just sitting in the front seat with my head on the center console with a sweatshirt. Ideal napping conditions for being in a vehicle.

We were really hoping to see bears while we were in Glacier, but from the appropriate distance that they wouldn’t be too close. On our way out of the west entrance, I pulled in to stop and get some pictures of the boat dock. There were some people that started walking over. I was like “hmm, this is a large crowd” so I look to my right is a momma bear with her cubs right in the bushes. (See below). I backed out of there real quick with my heart beating out of my chest, so we could watch from a safe distance. I threw the truck in reverse and put a safe distance between us. The momma had two cubs and walked right across the parking lot in front of us. It was terrifying but thrilling at the same time.

On the way back to the hotel in the evening, we decided to drive the route we had run earlier. Wow, it’s kind of scary to drive. There’s no guardrails, the pavement is incredibly uneven, and overall just seemingly unsafe. I was glad we drove it after running it. I think it was better for me to not know how hard it was going to be prior to running it. They describe the course online and share the altitude changes but until you run it, you don’t realize just how many miles you are running straight up a mountain.

After getting back to the hotel, we had dinner at the restaurant in the Inn and hung out in the downstairs living room / lobby area that gave such cabin vibes. I read a book on National Parks and sipped on some Diet Coke. Really, an evening I could only dream about. The next morning we were headed to Banff in Canada, which was about 5 hours or so away so we had to rest up for the long road ahead.

Overall Glacier National Park was B E A U T I F U L. We explored a fraction of what all it has to offer and didn’t do any grand hiking. There’s so many opportunities for activities, photography, and memory making. I would highly recommend checking it out. I am already planning to go back…

Over the next 7 days, Jen and I drove to Jasper National Park as well as Banff National Park in Canada. We drove through Kamloops in Canada and then to Vancouver. We finished off the trip in Washington state exploring Mount Rainer National Park, North Cascades National Park, and Olympic National Park. You can check out those stories and pictures in my upcoming blogs.